Black and Gay in Corporate America

How a growing number of African American LGBT managers are breaking through isolation and fear within their companies

Sabin D. Blake, Dealer Organizational Manager, Northeast Region, General Motors Corp. (Photo: Lonnie C. Major)

Sabin D. Blake, 34, has navigated the professional obstacles of being African American and gay throughout his career. Blake, a dealer organizational manager, Northeast region, for General Motors Corp., is no longer in the closet. That hasn’t always been the case though; for years, he lived a double life using non-gender specific pronouns such as “they” to describe individuals he has dated during casual conversations with colleagues.

“Being a double minority you choose what you present. I could hide being gay, I definitely couldn’t hide being black,” says Blake who kept his sexual orientation hidden for several reasons including fear for his personal safety. “I had these relationships with people where I would be going to dinner with their families. I was involved in their lives but I wasn’t being who I really was.”

Once keeping the secret became too disheartening, Blake made the decision to gradually reveal his sexual orientation to fellow GM employees and business associates. “It was hurtful not being authentic. And my energy was being sucked away,” he says. But each time he told someone he was gay it became easier for him. “It freed me. It allowed me to be more productive, more creative, and more innovative at work,” he says.

Blake attributes his level of comfort to GM’s workplace and the high visibility of gay senior-level executives and straight allies. “I know that GM has strong language in their anti-discrimination policies and very strong support of their employee network groups.” His experience resonates with African American corporate executives who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). For those who choose to “pass as straight,” they expend a great deal of time and energy covering up their personal lives or avoiding certain colleagues and company events.

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  • Corey

    What?! I’m so excited about this issue. I’ve never been a BE subscriber but, as a young, black, out man, I am certainly looking at building my career. I’m gonna go out and buy this one and see if it’s for me. Thanks for covering this story Black Enterprise.

  • J.L. Whitehead

    I read this article quickly…and then re-read it slowly. It forced me to re-visit an issue that I thought I had put to rest a long time ago. I left the corporate world…involuntarily when my company was downsized. The last year of my employment was probably the most painful point in time for me. No one seemed to understand what it was like to be out in a corporation that claimed to acknowledge the LGBT community, and yet did nothing about descrimatory practices that went on repeatedly. I had a picture of my partner on my desk. I was very proud of my relationship. It wasn’t a separate part of me to be compartmentalized to be dealt with off of company time…it was part of who I am and will always be. Every day, I felt like I had to fight. Admittedly, there were days when I didn’t feel like putting the “war paint” on, and although I know there were other issues that contributed to my adverse circumstances, me belonging to the LGBT community was a big factor. It drove me crazy because people didn’t want to “own up” to their negative feelings. Instead, they would nod in your face, smile, and you would think something is wrong with you. It wasn’t until I left the company and came back to visit friends that I felt were true friends that I realize who were my friends, and who were not. People that treated me lukewarm were now downright icy. People that initially gave me the impression that they were okay with me now had no reason to put up the pretense of tolerance because of the possiblity of being reported to HR for descriminatory behavior. Now they could be who they are with no fear of repercussion. I left corporate america terrified of falling into that trap again. The situation I’m sure is very real for millions of the African American LGBT community. I decided to write…becoming an author and taking control of my financial destination. It’s challenging, but at least I can be who I am without holding my head down for anyone. I wrote an article for a publication entitled “Is Corporate America REALLY ready for LGBT” The answer is that they are, but in small doses, and as history dictates, people of color are often the last to receive those acceptance, benefits and tolerance. Maybe in another few years. I don’t know. Only time will tell.

    J.L. Whitehead

  • Sheldon

    Am I dreaming?? First marriage equality in New York and now an article like this on the COVER of Black Enterprise! As one who has spent his entire career working in Fortune 100 companies, while being on an internal journey to self-acceptance, this article resonates with me to the core – as I’m sure with countless others. As President of The Black Gay Mens Network (www.TheBGMNetwork.com), I thank you BE for sharing our experience with courage and integrity.

  • Donique

    Thank you, Black Enterprise for your pioneering article on African American LGBT people! It’s so refreshing to see a wider segment of our community being profiled.

  • zconway@yahoo.com

    Excellent – this article is bringing a lot of smiles to Black LGBTQ & Black Straight Supporters! Thanks Black Enterprise for publishing this article!

  • Ronald

    As a 15 year old boy growing up in Detroit, I went to the main library to look up homosexuality to understand what I was feeling. The card catalog said “abnormal”, see “deviancy”. Therefore, that was what I thought of myself. This was 1969.
    You will never know how many young Black men and women you have helped to love themselves by priniting this article.

  • Shellee Haynesworth

    Kudos to Black Enterprise for this July cover, “Black and Gay”! I’m hoping that this article will spark the long overdue BLGBT conversation and controversy within the African American community that evolves around this subject. As a late in life lesbian I’ve been able to deal with the employment discrimination and behind my back comments because I’m extremely comfortable with who I am. But, this is so not the case for many BLGBT folks (young and old)…it’s all about empowerment and visibility. Let’s continue to keep this conversation open and moving forward.

  • Pingback: Coming Out: Black and Gay in Corporate America « A Snatch of Life

  • DK

    Great to see an article like this. You don’t have to be gay or lesbian to support equality for all. I am straight, but I’m a stong supporter of gay rights.

  • J sheldon

    Wonder of wonders mircales of mircales. Yes, change does happens LGBT or not Human Rights are just that HUMAN RIGHTS!

  • keith

    This is quite heartening to read for a non-Latin America gay black man, particulary from a country such as the United States, where it can still be considered somewhat easier to live a relative life of freedom compared to that of the life in many areas of the Caribbean. This could well be the first true Beacon of light coming from an iconic magazine, that will help to shine the way of acceptance for some of us as many of ubecannot yet brave the world of blatant discrimination and threat of life still so ardously imposed and daily witnessed by Caribbean men. Kudos BE!

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  • gomee

    to all the women of color in technology. There’s plenty of us, but our media usually gives so much attention to the athletes, singers and actresses who deserve recognition, but it’s nice to see a balance. Thank you
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  • Edward Robinson

    I would like to know why it is so important for BE to even consider an article on Black & Gay in Corporate America. I am not one to cause grief among anyone. I believe that God is the final judge of us all. But giving.. you have a National Magazine following. Why continue to perpetuate the problem of violence toward our youth.

    sincerely: E. Robinson

  • Khalil Edwards

    Thanks BE for this groundbreaking article! Please enjoy and share this courageous video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1AYIxGM_2g

  • Regene

    Bravo. As a femorr SPLC employee, I applaud you, thank you, on various levels. I wish you and all those involved in this campaign nothing but success.

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